Go Ahead, Eat the White Bread. It's Not the Devil!

Kim Conte

wheat bread slicesFor years nutrition experts have been cramming down our throats the notion that nutrient- and fiber-rich wheat bread is healthier than white bread. And it seems that (with the exception of my mom) we're all finally listening:

Just this week, the Nielson Co. reported that for the very first time packaged wheat bread earned more in sales than its white bread equivalent.

But before we give ourselves a gold star for making healthy choices, there's something you should know about wheat bread: If your brand of wheat bread isn't made mostly of "whole grains" or "whole wheat," there's really no difference between it and the dreaded white bread we're so often warned about.

When it comes to caloric content, white and wheat bread are basically the same: White has 66 calories; wheat has 69. Wheat bread is nutritionally supreme, however, if it's made mostly of whole grains or whole wheat, which is high in fiber, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, and chromium. White bread, on the other hand, is made from refined wheat, which goes through a process that strips out the nutrient-rich parts of the grain. 

The problem? There's a lot of wheat bread on the grocery shelves masquerading as whole wheat; but a quick check of the ingredient list shows that it's really not. In fact, these pretend wheat breads are made from the same refined wheat flour as white bread -- they've just been given a little caramel coloring to make them brown.

In other words, the only difference between my mom's hallowed white bread and your fake wheat bread is the color. I don't care how many times the words "natural" or "100 percent" appear on the packaging, you're not getting the nutritional value of whole grains from your bread. (Do you hear that, Mom?)

Misleading, right?

So how can you be sure you're buying whole grain bread? Read the label. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you're trying to determine which brand to buy:

  • Be sure the first ingredient is either "whole wheat flour" or "whole grain flour."
  • If the above is true, make sure there are only a few other ingredients listed in addition to the flour (yeast, salt, water, etc.) and that you recognize the ingredients. Five or less ingredients is ideal.
  • If you see the following ingredients, walk, no RUN away from that particular brand of bread: High Fructose Corn Syrup; Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil; or anything that contains the words "Unbleached" or "Enriched." These are all junk and should not be added to your bread.

Do you eat white, wheat, or whole grain bread in your house?


Image via How Can I Recycle This?/Flickr

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